Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.
Even after years of peace, the sight of the Fire Nation emblem sends an instinctive stab of fear through Katara’s heart.
Childishly, she’d thought that balance would be immediate once the Avatar defeated Fire Lord Ozai, but after years of navigating tribunal and rebuilding politics, she finds herself almost missing the simplicity of war.
A hundred-year war has left the world so out of balance that it’s hard to imagine it can ever be restored. Even Aang’s endless reserves of optimism and creativity grow strained as he travels constantly, negotiating terms between the nations and using every moment of spare time to found a new nation of Air Nomads.
The Southern Water Tribe begins rebuilding. Slowly. It’s been so many years since it’s had any goal but survival that initially no one even knows what rebuilding should mean. Without any waterbenders but Katara, it’s impossible to return to many of the traditional ways of building and hunting. The waterbenders who journeyed from the Northern Tribe don’t share or appreciate many Southern Traditions. As the smaller Tribe, Southern ways are treated as lesser. The tension is constant, and the accusation hangs heavy that they are clinging to the past and should allow more “advanced” nations to lead them in rebuilding. A new world. A new era. There are many in the tribe who are ready to embrace it.
Katara is the only Southern waterbender left, and the endangerment of those traditions feels like a piece of Southern Watertribe identity that no one else can even see. She and Sokka have an explosive argument during a Water Tribe council meeting about the balance between tradition and modernization. Imported boats. Imported architecture. Imported teachers. Visions of mining and factories. What will even be left of the Southern Water Tribe, she wants to know.
Afterwards, her father requests that she take on the role of Water Tribe envoy.
The title is a compliment, but the purpose is exile. She’s being sent away to stop her interference with the rebuilding decisions.
“I have responsibility to everyone in this tribe, Katara,” Hakoda says when she argues. “I cannot give priority to waterbending tradition. Not even for my daughter. There will be time to restore the Southern bending traditions in the future when there are new benders again.”
There will be no place left for them by then is all Katara can think as she packs to leave.
The first place she’s sent is the Fire Nation. The thought of seeing Zuko again makes her heart pound with nervous excitement, but the purpose of the trip is unpleasant.
Fire Nation has agreed to pay reparations to the Southern Water Tribe. It’s been years since she last saw Zuko, and the first time she lays eyes on him again it’s as an envoy, not a friend, addressing him as Fire Lord, asking that he explain why his nation’s payments to her tribe have been late in recent months.
Zuko is older and burning in his throne room, flanked by walls of flames.
The scar on his face is still as stark and brutal as it was the first time she saw him all those years before. Fire glitters in his golden eyes, in the gold detailing of his intricate robes, and reflects wildly in the Fire Crown he wears in his top knot, the Fire Nation emblem.
Her heart clenches in her chest as she stares up at him.
The familiarity that had once existed between them seems extinguished.
The room is stifling as she stands in her traditional Water Tribe robes. The layers of wool, fur and leather trap the heat against her skin, and she feels at risk of evaporating as she bows respectfully and thanks him formally for his hospitality. A bead of perspiration forms along her temple and runs down to her chin as she states the purpose of her visit and leans forward in respectful obeisance.
“A suite has been prepared for you in the inner-palace,” Zuko says. “The Chief Treasurer will meet with you tomorrow to address the Water Tribe’s concerns. Thank you, Envoy.”
That’s all he says.
It feels as though she doesn’t know him.
Aang often meets with the Fire Nation, and Sokka has travelled back several times to negotiate the purchase of Fire Nation machinery. They described the visits as warm reunions.
After Sozin’s Comet, Katara had considered herself closer to Zuko than any of the others. He saved her life, and she saved his. There were ways he understood her that she felt no one else could even see.
The last time she saw him had been in Ba Sing Se at his uncle’s tea shop, the final reunion before they’d travelled their separate ways, setting off to restore balance in the world, certain they’d all be reunited again soon.
Zuko stood on the steps of the tea shop, dressed as a server, a hand raised in farewell as Aang helped her up onto Appa’s back.
Back when everything seemed simple.
Now Katara feels as though nothing will ever be simple again.
She feels homeless. Everyone else has found a place for themselves after the war. Zuko is the Fire Lord. Aang is the Avatar rebuilding his own nation from scratch with those ready to embrace the traditions of Air Nomads. Toph has founded a metalbending school in the Earth Kingdom. Sokka has taken the lead beside their father in the Southern Water Tribe’s rebuilding and modernization process.
It seems as though there’s no place left that needs Katara.
The rooms within the palace that she’s given are luxurious and larger than a single person could ever need. She sends away the servants and strips down to her underbindings.
It’s so hot.
It’s as though the sun seats itself lower in the Fire Nation, beating down with that same unrelenting, hungry intensity that filled the throne room. The greed and power of fire can be felt in the very air she breathes.
The moon is at its lowest ebb, and she can sense the weakness as she flicks her wrist, reaching for water in her surroundings. There’s a bathroom that takes water from the volcanic hot springs underground. A pitcher sits nearby. She draws the water up from it, feeling the fluid shape as it moves through the air in response to her call. She turns the water into a mist and draws it around herself until her skin feels cool again.
She’ll need new clothes. Perhaps it was only her own sense of physical discomfort that made the reunion with Zuko seem so disappointing.
She’s certain that the next time she sees him, it will go better.
The meeting with the Treasurer leaves Katara writhing. The room is unbearably hot and she still has not obtained new clothing.
The Fire Nation is paying reparations to every nation, while also relocating hundreds of the citizens from Fire Nation colonies around the world in cooperation with the new treaties, and paying for vital resources such as grain which they had historically seized as a form of tax. The entire country is in upheaval, financial resources are in constant flux.
Katara sits silently, staring at all the numbers before her. It’s waterbenders and Water Tribe lives that have been reduced to figures. The calculated economic impact of their loss. Katara attended the tribunals, but calculations determining the economic impact of the extermination was something decided afterwards.
She hates it. She hates that her people have been turned into money. She hates it even more because the Water Tribe needs that money, that they’ll accept it as compensation, and it will be regarded as enough. As if any amount can ever be enough.
Her mother’s life is one of those figures.
Her forgiveness of Zuko so many years before has never grown to encompass the entire Fire Nation, and she feels more viscerally aware of that fact as she sits in a stifling and unwelcoming palace.
“Perhaps I could speak to the Fire Lord,” she finally says. Zuko has always met with Aang and Sokka personally.
The Treasurer clears his throat and simply passes her another scroll with more numbers. “The Fire Lord has commanded that the treasury settle this matter for him.”
Her stomach twists into a hard knot, and she says nothing else. She feels as though she’s being cooked from the inside as she sits listening. Finally she’s forced to excuse herself.
She goes to her room, draws a bath of steaming water, and chills it to almost ice before sinking beneath the surface.
A world surrounded by water, away from the unrelenting heat, feels safe. Like home. Like there’s a place she still belongs.
The world is supposed to be better now. She believed that everything would be better after the war. Instead, every passing moment feels emptier than the one before it.
She knows it is better, but it doesn’t feel that way. As if the new world doesn’t have space for her. Every place that she once seemed to belong is disappearing. The position she’s been assigned now is one she does not want.
She comes up for air and then sinks below the surface again, reassuring herself that if she’s patient, things will improve. Her arrival must be poorly timed. Zuko is busy but eventually he’ll have time for her. Everything will be better then.
She meets with the Treasurer or one of his secretaries every few days and spends hours writing letters and reports to her father and the Water Tribe council. She has no idea what she’s actually intended to be doing, there doesn’t seem to be anything that anyone expects her to do.
She sees Zuko in the distance when there are dinners involving the court. As a guest in the palace she’s expected to attend them, but she’s never acknowledged or invited to approach. The Fire Nation has had a military culture for a hundred years, and those traditions still linger in the structure and etiquette. It is stiflingly formal. Although afforded rooms within the palace, Katara is clearly of no consequence to the Fire Lord, the court notices this and ignores her accordingly.
It takes a week for the clothing she ordered to be delivered. Lightweight silks that breathe. They fall like liquid down her body. Thin layers of fabric that leave her back, waist and arms bare. Fire Nation cut and style, but blue for the Water Tribe, to indicate her status as envoy. The silk is decorated with silver embroidery depicting delicate waves and crescent moons. Her traditional beads of carved wood and tusk are replaced with silver. She’s the Chief’s daughter, the Southern Water Tribe’s envoy, the last Southern Water Bender; she’s expected to look the part.
She still wears her mother’s necklace. There’s no silver or gold worthy of replacing it.
Now that she feels less physically stifled, she leaves her rooms during the day, exploring the palace. The guards ignore her. She visits the gardens and discovers a turtle-duck pond in a secluded area somewhat apart from the more formal gardens. When the sun is no longer a blistering brand in the sky, she returns there. The moon is rising overhead, a crescent that ripples in the surface of the pond as the evening light fades.
She hears footsteps in the gravel pathway. It’s instinct that makes her hand clench enough to feel the body of water before she turns. It’s Zuko. Her heart jumps.
“Katara,” he says. He looks her up and down twice, but his expression doesn’t change.
There’s nothing warm in the way he says her name. Heat. Yes. That blistering, searing intensity that she has always associated with him. But none of the warmth that she once knew.
She squares her shoulders and straightens before inclining her head in respect. “Fire Lord.”
He continues to stare at her.
They’re not children anymore.
Not that they had ever been afforded the luxury of childhood, but now even the physical traces of youth have faded.
Standing within a few feet of her, she finally has the opportunity to study him closely.
Power, it seems, suits him. There’s no boy left in the Fire Lord.
“I hope the Treasurer has been able to address the Water Tribe’s concerns,” he says at last, his voice tight.
It’s likely, she realizes now, that he takes it as a slight to his honour that she’s here in the palace. He promised that the Fire Nation would redeem itself and submitted his country to trials and reparations, and she is here asking him to do it faster.
She looks down. There’s a growing sense of emptiness in her chest.
”I’m hopeful, ” she says, but the words are a lie. She isn't hopeful. Succeed or fail, many of the things she cares about will be gone when she returns home, and then what will she have left? Is it even home still, if they don’t want her there anymore?
“I must excuse myself,” is all Zuko says before he leaves.
She overhears later, from whispering servants, that the Fire Lord hosted a private dinner that evening with close friends.
It would seem that a Water Tribe envoy is not a friend. The Fire Nation is another place that Katara’s presence is not wanted.
She stops looking for Zuko after that.
She sends a letter to the Council. She doesn’t think her presence in the Fire Nation is beneficial to negotiations.
The night of the full moon, Katara can’t sleep. She can feel her power like a steady thrum in her veins. She lies in bed, sensing the underground rivers and hot springs. She’s barely used her bending outside her rooms since arriving in the Fire Nation. She restless to move, to feel the power of the moon as it shines down silver upon her.
She returns to the garden with the turtle-duck pond. The first forms she practices are simple and discreet to test and explore her precision. Then the movements grow. Waterbending was a dance long before it was a form of combat. The Water Tribe watched the ocean and the moon and learned their ways. Yin and yang. Push and pull.
Fluid constant movement. Water is a partner who meets her every ebb and flow.
She calls a stream up, twisting it, shaping it, sending it up into the heavens until her control over it is straining. She closes her hands into fists, feeling the temperature plummet until the water crystallizes and expands. Her hands drop as snow falls from the clear, moonlit sky, dissolving as it touches the pond.
As she stands watching the snow fall, she feels new water close to her.
They have come quietly, and they are very close.
A sharp jerk of her hand, and the snow flurry contracts to solid ice in her fist as she whirls and lunges.
She stops short, the ice she holds is a razor-edged lance a breath away from Zuko’s throat.
She gasps with surprise and opens her hand, barely feeling the ice melt, water streaming down her wrist.
“Zuko!” she says.
He is Zuko.
His ceremonial robes are gone, as is his top knot with the Fire Crown. His hair hangs down around his face, softening the harsh lines of pain and power in his features. He’s dressed in a dark silk robe with nothing more than embroidered trim.
He looks like the person she knew.
She can feel his blood. With the moon full and his body so close, she can vividly sense it in his veins.
He stands unmoving. She doesn’t think he even blinked when she had the lance at his throat.
“What are you doing out here?” she says, straightening and trying not to look like she just nearly murdered him in his own garden.
“I saw you practising. It reminded me of the old days,” he says.
Old days. The way he says it makes it sound like something irrecoverably lost. Perhaps it is. Perhaps that’s what everyone but Katara understands; the past is gone, there is nothing to do but let go and accept it.
Her heart is still beating quickly with surprise. She isn’t sure what to make of his sudden appearance after weeks of avoidance.
“I hope my technique is better now, ” she says.
His shrugs. “I’d have to see more to say.”
There’s almost a suggestive quality to the way he says it.
Katara looks up sharply, but his expression is flat, betraying nothing.
It’s not as though bending is private. She’s used it in battle, she’s fought him with it, saved him with it, healed him with it.
Yet the thought of bending for him in a moonlit garden feels intimate.
“I’ll need more space than this, ” she says after a moment.
He steps back a few paces and Katara stands shifting nervously under his stare. Waterbending has never been performative for her the way it often is in the Northern Water Tribe.
She closes her eyes so she’ll stop looking at him. She opens her hands, feeling the water. The cool pond behind her, the droplets in the grass beneath her feet, the vapour in the air around her.
She moves slowly at first, feeling the weight and pull of the water and her power. Then she whips streams upwards, spinning them into shapes and patterns of ice and liquid. Small at first but slowly larger and larger, until they shoot into the air, the droplets shining like new constellations.
She feels Zuko’s blood quicken in his veins as he watches. The sense of it sparks something restless and daring in her. A desire to test the limits of her abilities.
She lifts her arms and water surges up and drags her back beneath the surface of the pond, then it swirls up, unfurling in curling layers of ice like the petals of a lotus, as it blooms open she draws the water in again, wrapping it around herself like a cloak. It carries her upwards and she flings herself into the sky.
She flies up so high she almost thinks she could reach out and touch the moon. Then she plummets down, and as soon as she is close enough she calls the water up to meet her. It catches her and she lands softly on the grass.
There’s a roar as the water crashes back into the pond behind her.
A turtle-duck quacks angrily somewhere in the reeds, and there is the low boom of a heron, but after that, the night is quiet again.
She stands panting and tucks her hair back as she stands in front of Zuko.
He stays silent for several seconds.
“That was beautiful,” he says at last, but his voice is empty. There’s no feeling in the words. They sound obligatory.
“Thanks,” she says, disappointed that she failed to prompt more of a reaction. Then again, he’s seen her bloodbend. He’s a firebender, his appreciation for bending is probably limited to its military usefulness. He’d probably expected to see combat forms, the way she used to practice during the war.
There’s a longer pause as she waits for him to excuse himself and leave.
“Aang must love watching you.”
It’s the last thing she expected him to say. She blinks with surprise and then laughs and shakes her head. “Aang? I haven’t seen Aang in almost a year. The Air Temple takes most of his time, and the nations take all the rest.”
Something about Zuko’s demeanor suddenly shifts. “Oh?”
She nods, flicking water off her skin. “He has acolytes now who primarily travel with him. He’s focused on re-establishing the Air Nomad traditions before more is lost. I was with the Southern Water Tribe until the Council sent me here.”
Sent me away, she doesn’t say.
“I thought that after the war, you and Aang—“ He seems to have moved closer.
Her cheeks grow warm. “Oh, well we were for a while, but we were needed in different places.” It’s been so long now, she’d almost forgotten it; a few shy kisses that have faded into the past.
There’s something in the way Zuko is looking at her now that sends a shiver down her spine.
It isn’t fear.
It’s something — warmer.
Zuko’s only inches away now, and she isn’t sure when he moved. He’s taller than he was during the war. She’d thought it was just his ceremonial robes making him seem larger, but he looms over her. His golden eyes are fastened on her face, studying her as though searching for something.
She can feel the fire in him. The warmth around him that she remembers is suddenly tangible again.
“It’s all been different after the war,” she says. “I think we both expected things to be easier, that everything would come together naturally after that.”
He nods. “Not that I expected it to be easy, but,” he gives a dry laugh, “I’ve had to fight harder for peace than I ever fought during the war.” He looks away from her, glancing around the palace garden. “I went to my father once, to ask how he was able to sleep peacefully while Fire Lord, how he lived with the weight of it all. Apparently, it’s simply my weakness and self-doubt.”
Katara shakes her head.
At the end of the war, she’d seen Zuko’s ascension as Fire Lord as an achievement, but as she sees him now, without the throne and regalia, the obligation of it is suddenly visible. It’s a weight he carries. Restoring the honour of a nation. Returning to peace and making amends for his nation’s violent greed.
She knows there are regular attempts made to have him killed or overthrown. There are many noble families who oppose peace and reparations, who resent having their colonies and governorships taken from them. Zuko’s refusals to do more than imprison Ozai and Azula leave him even more vulnerable to loyalists. Yet he carries on unswayed and alone.
Iroh lives in Ba Sing Se, retired from both war and politics, all his royal titles and duties renounced. Aang and Sokka have mentioned that Zuko feels an obligation to leave his uncle in peace. Another reparation.
She reaches up. Her fingers almost rest on his scar where it's burned across his cheekbone, but she hesitates and runs her fingertips along his jaw instead. Her heart catches as she stares up at him.
“You’re the most honourable person I’ve ever known, Zuko. You should sleep well knowing that.”
He stares down at her. The gold in his eyes seems to glow as though they were rings of fire. “Thank you, Katara.”
She should step back now, but she stays where she is, taking in how brilliantly burning he is. Even at night, when his power is weakest, she can still feel the ferocity.
Water is so patient. It ebbs and flows, following the cycles of the tides and moon. It will wait.
Fire is restless, so hungry. Restrain it too much and it smothers itself. She can feel the pulse and impatient burn in Zuko’s blood. Combined with the weight of a kingdom and the world, it's a wonder he can sleep at all.
“I’m glad you came out tonight,” she says. “You were so distant when I arrived, I thought you’d forgotten our friendship.”
His hand brushes near her hip, and her breath catches. He freezes, then she feels his fingertip brush against her skirt.
“I don’t think that could ever happen,” he says, the words almost under his breath.
He’s not touching her.
His fingers are long and they’re running along the silk of her skirt, making the fabric shift like a whisper against her skin from her hip and thigh. It sends a warm shivering sensation rushing through her. Her heart begins pounding.
Her fingers slip from his face and rest against his chest over his heart. His robe is soft, smooth under her palm. Thin enough that she can feel the hardness of his chest beneath it.
She feels as though she’s doing something dangerous.
She hasn’t done anything dangerous in so long she’d forgotten how alive it makes her feel. This is more daring than free falling.
“Why did you come out tonight, Zuko?” she asks in a quiet voice, because she suspects now, as they stand together, that she knows.
It’s something she thinks perhaps she’s always known but never been prepared to confront. Not until now, under a full moon when she feels its power flowing through her blood. The heart of a Fire Lord beats beneath her hand, she can feel it as though she held it in her palm.
Something quiet, waiting, not quite slumbering exists between them.
Not friendship. She isn’t sure that it was ever really friendship.
She feels his heartbeat quicken under her fingers.
“I’m less honourable than you think.”
She can feel the weight of his hand now, the heat bleeding into her skin, and her pulse speeds up.
He doesn’t answer immediately. After a pause, his hand draws away from her hip and rises up, brushing against the necklace tied around her throat. “Because the Avatar hopes to marry you someday.”
She stares at him, feeling as though he’s burned her.
“What?” is all she manages to say.
Surely not. Maybe once, but her relationship with Aang was years in the past now. They said someday when they parted ways. Katara had thought it would be a few months or a year. For her, the opportunity of someday had faded into the past, it wasn’t some undetermined future date that she was expected to wait for: the day when Aang had time for her again.
She doesn’t even know if she’d want him to.
When she thinks back on the time they spent travelling together, the feelings she remembers now are more protective and almost maternal than romantic.
The idea that Aang thinks she’s waiting for him, that he tells people this, sparks a sharp sense of indignation in her chest.
“I’ve never agreed to that.”
She feels Zuko inhale and tilts her chin up to stare piercingly at him. “Why does that matter to you?”
She wants to hear him say it.
Instead, he steps away from her and his expression hardens. “I have a nation I’m responsible for. There are things I have to give up to maintain peace. The Fire Nation needs the goodwill of the Avatar.”
Her hand drops to her side. Now she understands.
“That’s why you’ve been so distant since I arrived.” It’s not a question, she simply wants him to acknowledge the coldness; that she didn’t imagine it.
She is unwelcome, just not for the reason she thought.
He gives a terse nod.
Katara stands silent for several seconds.
“Why did you come out tonight, Zuko?” she asks for the third time.
She sees his throat dip as he meets her eyes. There is an undeniable burning hunger in his eyes as he stares at her.
“I wanted to see you bend again,” he says. His voice is wistful. “Seeing the waterbender you’ve become reminds me that what I’m doing matters. I always thought your waterbending was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen.”
He looks as though he’s about to turn to leave. Without pausing to think, Katara steps forward, catching hold of his robe and stopping him. She pulls him down and kisses him.
His lips meet hers, and he seems frozen in surprise for a moment before his arms wrap possessively around her. It’s like being bathed in fire. He kisses her back hungrily. She catches his shoulders and pulls him closer to deepen it.
She’s never kissed anyone first and never like this. Chaste, cautious kisses like the waves of a summer lake are all she’s ever known. Zuko’s embrace is like being dragged under by a tsunami of fire.
His arms around her waist draw her close, his hand spans her back, burning possessive fingers running across her bare skin. He kisses her, a long searing kiss that flares through her until she feels that he has branded his desire into her soul.
Her fingers tangle in his hair. His mouth is ravenous against hers. Her arms lock around him. It’s like falling headlong into the heart of the sun and she never wants to leave it.
She feels alive in his embrace.
Zuko’s hand slides up the length of her back, tangling his fingers in her hair, dragging her up until her body’s arched against him. He holds her tightly, kissing her a moment longer before suddenly letting go and staggering back.
His chest is heaving, and he steps further away from her, his hands clenched into fists that are shaking.
“I can’t!” he says again, the words seem to be directed more at himself than they are at her. “This world needs peace. I can’t choose something selfishly that could threaten that.”
Then he’s gone.
The garden feels cold and empty without him. Katara returns to her rooms, but her heart's pounding too much to sleep. She sits by her window, staring up at the moon.
She’d forgotten that this kind of passion still existed inside her; that she could feel things with such intensity. The last time she experienced that urgency was during the war. Things were so simple then. She held onto people and refused to give them up, no matter what it took.
Somehow, she’d forgotten that it could be that simple.
The Fire Nation needs the goodwill of the Avatar.
She replays Zuko’s words until they sit like lead weights inside her chest. Aang is Zuko’s friend. As mediator between the four nations, that friendship is vital. The peace is fragile. The other nations are far from ready to trust or forgive the Fire Nation, it is Aang and his unwavering friendship and trust in Zuko that maintains that tenuous balance.
Katara is a risk Zuko cannot afford.
She understands that. Even a slight strain in the relationship may be too much for the delicate balance that the world has achieved. Zuko’s position as Fire Lord is precarious enough within his own borders; he cannot endanger the most important friendship he possesses.
Not for anyone.
She falls asleep when it’s nearly dawn and sleeps late into the following day. When she wakes, sunlight is pouring through the windows, brilliantly golden. She lays in bed for several minutes as it spills across her back. The warmth reminds her of Zuko’s fingers trailing across her skin. She lies there with her eyes closed, feeling it.
She hears later from a court Lady that the Fire Lord was up at break of dawn, performing combat training for several hours before holding court. It was, Katara is made to understand, not a usual part of his daily routine.
The next morning, she’s awoken by the furious roar of fire. She goes outside and finds half the court standing on the wall and watching Zuko single-handedly fight off twenty firebenders. He’s stripped down to his breeches. His skin is slick with sweat, muscles glistening under the rising sun. He sends a scalding blast of fire so large she can feel the heat on her face from where she stands thirty feet away.
It’s not the usual, restrained and precise firebending form that he’d adopted in the process of training Aang. It reminds her of his earlier style. Savage and dangerously aggressive, without any effort made to conserve strength and energy. It’s more as though he’s intentionally trying to exhaust himself.
He kicks his way free when surrounded, sending a scythe of flame slicing across the length of the courtyard. As he whirls, he catches sight of Katara watching. He freezes, his right hand instantly rising in a fist above his head. The firebenders closing in around him stop in their tracks.
“Enough!” Zuko says. He’s breathing raggedly.
He stands staring up at Katara. She can see the lightning scar in the centre of his torso, it’s as brutal and vivid as the scar on his face though she did everything she could to heal it.
Zuko looks away first, stalking over and pulling a robe on before walking away, his guards flanking him.
“He stayed longer yesterday,” says a young woman nearby. “I wonder why he stopped.”
Katara receives a letter from the Water Tribe council; an Earth Kingdom factory has interest in a mining venture in the South Pole; if she doesn’t want to remain in the Fire Nation, she can be transferred there.
She stares at the missive and wonders if this is how Zuko felt during his banishment. Wandering. Not chosen for the task out of suitability but simply because it keeps her far from home.
She’s played her part in winning the war and now everywhere she goes, she’s in the way. Nobody needs one Southern waterbender.
Does the Council ever intend to let her return?
The corners of her eyes burn as she wraps the blue ribbon back around the scroll and places it in the stack with all the rest of her correspondence with the tribe.
She can’t stay in the Fire Nation. She’s a disruption. Zuko sees her mere presence as a risk. He will make a point of avoiding her as long as she remains in the palace. There will never be a welcome for her here.
An aching hollowness begins spreading across her chest as she stares out the window at the mountain horizon. A lump forms in her throat, and she dips a brush to make her reply.
The Earth Kingdom. She will be ready to depart on the next ship.
She doesn’t see Zuko for two days. On the third day, she finds him alone at a balcony watching the sun sink behind the ocean’s horizon. She’s drawn to him like a lure even though she knows better. Even though she knows she knows better.
He stiffens when she comes and stands beside him.
Neither of them speak. After a few minutes, the sun vanishes entirely, the last scarlet rays disappearing. As the world fades away into dusk, Zuko turns and walks away without a word.
The next evening at dinner, Katara’s seated by several lords and ladies who are amused by the idea of there being any non-primitive culture outside the Fire Nation. It’s hardly an improvement from being ignored. Their ignorance is as offensive as it is astonishing. While she’s answering their interrogation, she’s reminded of Aang’s time in the Fire Nation school. They’re trained in nothing but war, that they’re a superior nation. They aren't even taught to dance.
Zuko has not even looked at her all evening.
”Maybe I can demonstrate a traditional Water Tribe dance, ” she says impulsively.
Everyone around her goes silent and then begins urging her to. She feels like a novelty toy but she doesn’t care. Her eyes are on Zuko, who, despite being seated almost the length of the room away, has gone still as though she’d frozen him.
She’s urged up and stands. Now everyone’s eyes are on her.
Her heart’s pounding and her stomach twists nervously. She doesn’t want to actually dance in front of the Fire Nation court. But Zuko is staring at her now as though he cannot tear his eyes away. That’s the only detail Katara cares about.
The dance is intended to have a partner. Southern Water Tribe dances are not solo affairs, but she leaves the absence of a partner visible as she moves. After performing the simple steps, flipping, jumping, spinning, she summons the water from her glass and continues a few minutes longer, waterbending as she moves.
It’s a restrained version of her performance in the garden. The manoeuvres are simple, but she knows that Zuko will recognize the forms.
She finishes with a series of flips and when she stops, the water falls around her as snowflakes that dust across her skin and catch in her hair.
There’s polite applause as she returns to her seat. After a few more questions about waterbenders, the conversation moves on to other topics. She can feel the burn of Zuko’s gaze upon her for the remainder of the meal.
As she’s walking back to her rooms, she’s caught by the arm and pulled behind a pillar, beyond the reach of torchlight. She makes no attempt to struggle; she instantly recognizes the searing heat of the hands holding her.
“What are you doing?” Zuko asks. “Why would you offer to dance in front of the court?”
He’s holding her by the shoulders as if he wants to shake her.
She feigns ignorance. “They were asking questions about the Water Tribe. I told them that we dance.”
“You shouldn’t let them see you as entertainment, they owe you their respect.”
She rolls her eyes. “I don’t think there’s anything I could do to earn their respect that wouldn’t qualify as an act of war.” She scoffs, crossing her arms. “Besides, it doesn’t matter what they think of me, I won’t be here any longer.”
She can only barely see a vague outline of Zuko’s face in the darkness, but she sees his head jerk as he looks sharply at her.
”What?” The heat of his hands is bleeding into her skin, and she hates how much she cares about that detail.
She twitches her shoulder in a shrug. “I wrote to the Tribal Council last week before the full moon, telling them that I’m not suited for assignment here. They’re sending me to the Earth Kingdom.”
“Why? The Treasurer tells me the negotiations are going well.”
She sighs and looks down. “The tribe could have sent a letter, Zuko. They were going to send a letter. The reason I was made envoy isn’t because they thought they needed to send one here. I opposed the tribe’s decisions about rebuilding. Giving me a diplomatic mission was to get me out of the way.”
“I was going to tell the Treasurer tomorrow, I’ll be leaving for the Earth Kingdom in a few days. There’s a—factory there interested in a South Pole mining venture. I'll make sure they send someone else to the Fire Nation in the future.”
Zuko’s hands on her shoulders tighten for a moment and then slip away.
Katara releases a low breath. She suspects this is goodbye.
She tilts her head back and reaches up, finding his face in darkness. “Take care, Zuko. I hope, someday, you find peace for yourself and not just others.”
Her hand drops, and she turns to go.
She’s made it two steps before she feels his hand on her arm again, pulling her back. She turns and his lips descend upon hers, drawing her almost bruisingly close as he kisses her. Hungrier now and burning.
This is a mistake.
She knows they shouldn’t. As the calmer element, she should be the one to stop.
This is a mistake.
The world needs peace. She knows better. She should be cold and resist until Zuko’s fire cools enough that he remembers himself.
She should stop him.
They’re making a mistake. They’ll regret this.
She’s pinned against the wall, and his warm body presses hard against the length of hers. Hard muscle against soft curves. Sun and moon. His hands are already roaming everywhere, like flames rushing across her skin. She gasps against his lips, and the kiss immediately deepens. Ravaging and consuming.
Her eyes flutter closed as she melts willingly into his arms.
Just once. They can have this once.
There’s roaring in her ears, and she doesn’t know if it’s from her pounding heart or a wall of flames around them.
She grips the heavy, stifling fabric of his robes to pull him closer. It's a wonder he can breathe at all wearing them. She finds the clasps under the collar and unfastens them, pushing the thick ceremonial robes with their insignias and embroidery and crested shoulders off of him.
She doesn’t want to kiss a Fire Lord. The person she wants is Zuko.
She didn’t know anything so consuming could be so vivid. The hungriness of desire is irresistible.
His tongue drags down the side of her throat, and she grips his shoulders as she feels him bite down at the juncture of her neck and shoulder. She gives a quiet moan, heat flooding through her veins. He grips her closer and groans under her hands as she touches him, tracing her fingers along his face. The sound of his voice nearly turns her liquid inside.
She isn’t sure how they make it to his rooms. She’s lost in him. The air is thick with incense and dimly lit with low, red sconces.
She feels the soft silk of sheets beneath her. A mattress she can’t reach the edges of in any direction she reaches. Her top has already slipped off somewhere along the way, and she feels the ties on her skirt come undone, the fabric pooling beneath her as Zuko’s burning hands trail up her inner thigh. His lips brush across her skin before his teeth catch on the corner of her shoulder. She gives a shuddering cry, arching as she pushes off his silk robe, running her hands across his bare skin.
He kneels over her, his eyes nearly black. Her fingers slowly run down his chest, stopping at the scar in the centre of his chest. She brushes her fingers gently across it. His hand closes over hers, holding it there. His fingers squeeze around hers.
She feels as though it’s the first time she’s paused to breathe since he kissed her.
She pulls him closer, her hand sliding across the rippling muscle of his shoulder, feeling the burn of him as their lips meet. He slips his arm behind her head, hand tangling through her hair as he pulls her possessively closer, twisted in the sheets of his bed, breathing in the heavy aroma of his skin, infused with royal oils and meditative incense.
Skin and silk, her arms tangle around him as she drops kisses down the length of his throat. Her tongue slides across his collarbones, tasting him, listening to the gasping, shuddering way that he reacts to her touch. It’s as if he's given her the power to break him. His breath is heavy on her skin as his hands slid along the length of her body, pulling away the remaining strips of underbindings until she’s completely bare beneath him. She feels as though her entire body is liquid as he parts her legs, his body pressing in against her.
It burns in a way that is not pleasant when he pushes in and fills her. Less of a burn and more like a savage pinch that threatens to tear skin.
A sharp sound catches in her throat, and her nails sink into his shoulders. He goes still, and she catches her breath and tries to relax. He kisses her, and she returns it, running her fingers through his hair. He’s rigidly tense and groans raggedly, and she realises belatedly that it’s not easy for him to stay frozen and unmoving while she tries to adjust.
She shifts under him slowly, rolling her hips, trying to adapt to the feeling of him inside her. He gasps, and his fingers tangle in her hair, drawing her head back, his teeth scraping against her jaw. Katara keens and her hips buck against his. He jerks and sinks further in.
She tenses instantly because she thinks it will hurt more, but it doesn’t. It’s nice. Better than nice. He moves in her, a long deep stroke and she meets the motion. The sensation of it is exquisite. Hands and lips whispering across sweat-slick skin, legs tangling. Their fingers entwine. She rolls her hips and kisses across his face. He presses his forehead against hers as he gasps.
He is gentler than she would have thought possible.
Her eyes slide closed.
The entire world is aflame between them.
Zuko’s lips caress her, his fingers tightening, and their hands remain laced together as he thrusts, pinning her hands above her head. Harder. Quicker. The pleasure grows blistering, until she thinks it’s too much and she trembles, gasping, twisting her hands free, she wraps her arms around him, trying to find something to cling to. He holds her close as she shatters in his arms.
When she stops shuddering under him, he kisses her forehead and between her eyes. She feels nearly boneless, but she wraps her arms around his shoulders again, listening to his ragged breathing as he thrusts and the groan that seems torn from him when he shudders and buries his face against her neck.
They lay entwined a moment longer before he lifts himself off and drops beside her. He draws her against his chest and presses a kiss near her hairline as he drags silk bedding up around them. She shivers, curling closer. He wraps his arms around her, his chin resting on the crown of her head. Her fingers rest on his chest. She can feel the tempo of his heartbeat and it lulls her to sleep.
Tomorrow Zuko will choose the Fire Nation because it is his obligation to do so, but Katara lets herself sleep in his arms, dreaming of a world where this is a place she belongs.
She’s catching fire.
Flames are dancing across her skin, their scarlet tongues gilding her. Soft. Golden warmth. The sensations sweep through her nerves like the tempo of a melody. Teasing. Licking. The fire runs down her arms and along her body. Her fingers twitch.
Heat is everywhere.
She’s bathed in fire. She luxuriates in the consuming warmth that surrounds her.
There is molten heat growing in her veins.
Burning warmth envelopes her breast. Her breath catches, and she moans as pleasure bursts, vibrating like a plucked string. She is liquid with desire. An inferno is flickering to life in her core. With every burning caress across her skin, she wants more.
Her eyes flutter open dazedly.
She’s lying wrapped in Zuko’s arms, and his fingers and tongue are running across her skin as though he intends to consume her.
The sun isn’t yet visible, but the sky is beginning to show the first signs of dawn.
She reaches out, trailing her fingertips along his arm. He looks up, and her hand traces up his shoulder to his jaw, feeling the curve of bone and the warmth of his skin. He is awake. More awake than she is. His firebender blood stirs with the rising sun.
He shifts forward and kisses her, slow and lingering for a moment before he drags her under. She gives a small laugh as she lets him.
They’ll have sex again, quickly before the sun emerges from behind the mountain peaks and the duties of Fire Lord call him back.
This is goodbye, she thinks as she kisses him. One night and one morning, stolen quickly before honour and obligation can seize him back.
It's more than they should have taken, but surely they can be allowed this.
She tangles her hands in his hair and then runs them down over his shoulders. He groans and pins her wrists with one hand before kissing down her body. His lips are greedy and so are his hands. He explores her slowly, paying careful attention to the caresses that make her shiver, when her breath catches, the soft whimpering keens that escape her lips.
His fingers trail up her thighs and between her folds, and she finds that he has turned her into molten liquid inside. He gives an incomprehensibly gentle stroke, and her fingers twist in the bedsheets. He puts his mouth there, and she nearly arches completely off the bed. His hand presses down on her stomach, between her hips, to hold her in place.
He licks again, and she nearly bites through her tongue to suppress the noise that tries to emerge. His tongue flicks against her, and she stops trying to keep back the whimpering pleas that escape her.
It’s as though he has the ability to bend her; she is liquid within, her body slick with sweat under his burning skin as though she could evaporate, and as his curious tongue tastes and explores her, she trembles as though on the verge of shattering into a thousand refracting shards of ice.
The sun is emerging from behind the mountain peaks, and the rays creep across the floor, almost reaching the bed.
Zuko refuses to be hurried. Katara feels as though she is the one with the element of greed in her blood, her feet sliding across the rippling muscles of his back as he kneels between her legs and her fingers tangle in his hair.
The sun climbs higher, the rays spilling over the bed. Zuko’s body is limned in sunlight and Katara stares and doesn’t think she has ever seen anything so beautiful. Trails of light reach her body where she is tangled in the sheets, and she finally climaxes in a world bathed in sunshine. Zuko’s golden eyes are fastened on her face, hunger shining in them.
His kisses his way slowly on her body, and even those light touches feel like almost too much. She is boneless, puddled in his sheets.
He kisses her and insinuates his body between her thighs. She wraps her legs around his hips and arches as he sinks into her. She’s still sore, but she ignores it. She can heal it later.
She urges him faster. He is still being so gentle and slow even though she can feel the burn of dawning sunlight in him. She wants to feel him let go. To know the full intensity of his want.
Let her have everything once.
The corner of her eyes prick, and it's hard to breathe for a moment. She kisses him, running her hands over his shoulders and down his arms. Her fingernails scrape across his nipples and run over his chest, tracing the dips and rises of his torso. He groans against her lips and slams his hips against hers.
She gives a ragged gasp and clenches around him, her nails sinking into his arms as she urges him on. His hands are searing as they drag across her skin. He straightens, kneeling on the bed, gripping her hips, and driving into her. He’s fast and burning, and Katara loses herself, coming apart within the heart of an inferno.
The dragon element. There is nothing on earth as possessive as fire.
She could burn for a thousand years and never want to leave.
The growl he makes when he comes is savage, and he slumps down against her. She’s gasping to breathe and feels singed from the inside out as he wraps his arms around her.
He’s still kissing across her shoulders when she falls asleep.
She wakes at midday alone in the bed.
The sun has risen high overhead. Her clothes have been picked up from the floor and left folded neatly on a low table nearby.
Katara sits in the centre of the bed, looking around Zuko’s empty room and absorbing what she has done.
It is a very impersonal room. There are no personal effects visible. There are some weapons, a set of antique swords, armour. She stands to redress and catches sight of a picture frame, lying facedown on the window sill. Once she has wrapped her underbindings around her breasts, she steps over.
A portrait of his mother, perhaps, she thinks as she picks it up.
The picture is an ink illustration of them all. Zuko, Aang, Sokka, Suki, Toph, and Katara just after Zuko’s coronation as Fire Lord. Katara is standing beside Aang, their arms slung around each other.
She puts the frame back down the way it had been left, puts on her clothes, and slips out of the Zuko’s rooms.
While she’s sitting up to her neck in a warm bath, there is a soft knock. Before she can speak the doors open. An older woman flanked by two young servants enters. The servants immediately pull the doors closed behind the woman, leaving them.
The older woman is not a courtier, but she has status and her robes denote seniority. She stands staring at Katara for a moment. She is holding a tray with a teapot and a single cup.
She walks forward and sets the tray beside the bath.
“You will need to drink three cups before nightfall,” she says straightening.
Understanding blooms through Katara as she stares at what she’s been presented with. She mentally calculates the days of her cycle; pregnancy should be impossible. Not that she’d stopped to think of it before.
The woman continues to stand unmoving, waiting for Katara to follow instructions.
She pours herself a cup and sips, nearly choking. It is so bitter it makes her tongue curdle.
They could have added honey. Perhaps audacious peasants who have seduced the Fire Lord are not regarded as deserving of anything to cut the taste.
She forces herself to drink three cups without a murmur of complaint.
When she sets the cup down the third time, the woman picks up the tray and departs without another word.
Katara stays in the water. She feels ill, as though her stomach is a rope that has been so over-coiled it has twisted back on itself.
It is not because of the tea, although she almost wishes it was.
By the time she leaves the comfort of the bath and dresses, she has missed her scheduled meeting with the Treasurer. She’ll have to inform him of her impending departure tomorrow.
She skips the dinner with the court that evening.
She doesn’t want to sit the length of a room away from Zuko. To be reminded of her place. That she is a necessary sacrifice. That she is not allowed to be consequential because the world needs peace.
She doesn’t resent Zuko for the choice he has to make, but it feels like a long thorn that’s been buried in her chest. If her heart beats too quickly, she suspects she will bleed to death from it.
She doesn’t think she’ll ever be able to bring herself to set foot in the Fire Nation again for the rest of her life.
When evening comes, she sits curled up by the window, staring at the waning moon. There’s a knock on her door in the late evening. Katara doesn’t answer it. If it’s more tea she’s certain they will enter without invitation.
There isn’t another knock.
She goes to bed and lies there unable to sleep, her mind spinning with futile longing. If every decision Zuko is obliged to make as the Fire Lord weighs this heavy, it’s a wonder he has slept at all since taking the crown.
She tells the Treasurer of her impending departure, and he seems surprised. She had assumed Zuko would have mentioned it.
She’s only been back in her rooms for a few minutes when there is a loud knock on the door. She opens it and finds Zuko, looking as though he’s run the full length of the palace in his full throne room regalia. Guards are clattering down the hallway after him.
“The Treasurer tells me you intend to leave,” he says.
She stares. Surely he hasn’t forgotten.
She gives a stiff nod and then bows as the guards catch up. “Yes. I’m being sent to the Earth Kingdom. There’s a company interested in a mining venture in the South Pole.”
Zuko pushes into her room and slams the door shut behind him, leaving all the guards outside. “You can’t leave.”
She turned and watched warily as he stalks across the room and turns. He’s moving constantly, like a caged animal. She’s certain he has not thought through the statement or even his presence in her rooms. It is simply midday and he is burning.
Katara inhales and squares her shoulders. “I can’t stay here. Zuko, I don’t want to stay here.”
He whirls on her. “What?”
She swallows, staring at him dressed as Fire Lord, she is confronted again by the fact he does not belong to her. That he never can.
“I can’t stay here. I don’t think I could bear it,” she says. “The world needs you in order to regain balance and peace. You said yourself, the Fire Nation needs the goodwill of the Avatar, and I—“ her chest tightens, feeling hollow, “—I endanger that. I have to leave. You know I have to leave.”
Zuko is silent for a moment, then he inhales, and it reminds her for a terrifying moment of the stance he entered during his last Agni Kai.
He cannot possibly intend to fight her over this.
“I’m advised by my council to marry,” he says abruptly.
There is a stabbing pain in Katara’s chest, and her voice dies when she tries to speak.
She forces herself to nod. “Of course,” she says, “you should.”
Heirs will strengthen his hold on the throne. A marriage alliance will help to stabilize the country, perhaps secure the loyalty of a powerful lord still chafing under the strictures of peace. In retrospect, it’s remarkable he’s gone so long without marrying. Marriage is a Fire Lord’s duty, the same as everything Zuko does.
“There are few options within the Fire Nation that will bring more stability. The appearance of favouritism could worsen tensions among the lords and increase the loyalist support for my father and sister.” He’s speaking quickly, his voice tense almost straining in a way she’d only noticed when he’s nervous.
Katara simply nods again.
If he is hoping she’ll protest for him, he is going to be bitterly disappointed.
“Because of that, a political alliance with one of the other nations is considered a better choice. However, there are few rulers with daughters, much less eligible ones. Chief Arnook’s daughter was lost during the Siege of the North, King Kuei is unmarried, and the Air Nation is monastic without hereditary titles. Chief Hakoda of the Southern Water Tribe is the only leader with a daughter of marriageable age.”
Katara should have realised where he was going, but instead she stands looking at Zuko in astonishment.
“My advisors have drafted a letter to the Council of the Southern Water Tribe, expressing the desire to form a marriage alliance with Katara of the Water Tribe.” He’s staring intently at her now.
Katara draws in an unsteady breath. “You—you can’t be serious. There must be other choices.”
A funny look crosses Zuko’s face, and he cocks his head to the side. ”The Beifong family was also mentioned, but somehow I don’t think Toph would be interested.”
The corner of his mouth twitches with suppressed amusement. He’s standing there acting as if it’s as simple as a joke and letter.
Katara wants to cry, but she forces herself to swallow it. Her hands threaten to start shaking, and she has nowhere to hide them.
She shakes her head. “You can’t do this, Zuko. You’re just inventing an excuse to hold on.”
He advances on her, and she wavers for a moment before drawing back.
He is the Fire Lord now. As he walks towards her, it’s no longer a title he is wearing out of obligation, it is power he has taken, that he will use to obtain what he wants.
She hates how much she wants him to. The selfish part of her wants to be chosen as if there would be no potential consequences from it.
The world cannot survive more war.
She fought for this world. They both did. Zuko carries a scar in the centre of his chest as a mark of it. She won’t let them burn it to the ground because of his inability to let go.
Possessive fire. Incapable of surrender.
She straightens, steeling herself. “Your friendship with Aang is more important for the Fire Nation than any marriage alliance could possibly be. You know that. I know that. This” —she gestures between them— ”is selfish. You said it first, and you were right. What we did was a mistake.”
He stops short. “Don’t. Call. It. That.”
He’s standing there, seething so intensely there is heat coming off him in visible waves.
Katara inhales, reaching for a sense of inner-calm that she doesn’t think exists within her now.
Water to counter fire.
She feels as though she’s on the verge of evaporating. She doesn’t want to be calm. She’s angry that this is her responsibility; that it is her legacy to be inconsequential when she fought just as hard as everyone else.
“It was a mistake,” she says, her voice ice. “We can’t be near each other. I’ve been here less than a month, and we already can’t be trusted alone together. You shouldn’t be here.”
He remains unmoving. She wants him to lash out, needs him to try to make her give in. Water is a defensive element. She doesn’t know how to manoeuvre when he refuses to first advance.
She’s not ready for this conversation. She doesn’t have the conviction for it yet. Everything is so fresh. It feels as though her heart is being striped raw just standing there.
It would seem that Fire still has the ability to inflict wounds she cannot heal.
“Please go, Zuko,” she says, crumbling inside. “And let me go.”
He reaches for her.
She feels as though there’s a stone inside her throat, and she tries to swallow it, holding out a hand to ward him off.
“You have to. People will notice, they probably already have. Aang could become suspicious even if it’s only rumoured; he’s already been jealous of you in the past.”
He pauses mid-stride, and a sense of unease crawls through Katara at the shift in his expression.
“I wrote to Aang yesterday, informing him that I intend to court you and marry you if you’ll consent.”
She stares at him in shock, her hand dropping to her side.
“You — you didn’t,” she manages to choke out.
He steps closer, closing the remaining space between them. “I told him that I’ve loved you since before Sozin’s Comet, but out of respect for him and our friendship, I kept my feelings to myself. I can’t do that any longer.”
Her heart catches in her throat and she stares at him speechless. She puts her hand out, trying to push him away and keep him back until she can form a response, a defense; a strategic retreat until she knows what she’s supposed to do now.
His long fingers close around her wrist, pulling her closer until her palm is pressed against his heart and she can feel it beating for her.
“I intend to pursue you openly,” he says, staring at her. “I won’t hide what I feel any longer. You held my heart even before you saved my life. This era of peace belongs to you. I won’t dishonour who you are by offering any less than everything I have.”
Katara’s throat closes when she tries to speak. Her fingers grip at his robes as she struggles to find words.
“Zuko,” she finally manages to say. “You’ve made everything harder for yourself. Everything you’ve fought for and worked towards—“
He dips his head until his forehead rests against hers. “If that’s what it takes, I'll do it a thousand times over.”
She doesn’t know what to say.
Zuko’s hand rests on her cheek, warm and so gentle. Her heart catches.
“Don’t leave me,” he breathes the words. “I’ll do whatever it takes. Stay with me. That’s all I want.”
She presses her face against his palm, closes her eyes, and nods.
The world doesn’t become perfect because Katara has Zuko, but the precarious, constant struggle for peace ceases to chafe.
It’s worth it, she thinks when the days are long and straining and there is no perfect solution to be found, because at night Zuko belongs to her alone. Lost in silk sheets and incense and the fire of his embrace, she has a place that’s all her own. His heart is her home.
It is the nature of balance that there is something lost in each thing gained.
The other nations become tentatively more trusting of a Fire Lord who would marry his counter element, but although Aang hides his hurt, Katara reads it in the missive he eventually sends in reply. His friendship with Zuko and Katara will always be important to him, he says. He is happy for them if they are happy. But letters come rarely after that, and shorter each time. His visits to the Fire Nation become infrequent, borne only from necessity.
The world’s fragile peace tilts precariously at times, and Katara can feel it in the possessive way Zuko burns. He has lost his friend and mediator, and it makes him more protective of what he has.
Katara becomes his sense of calm. An imperfect one with her own passions, but they run cooler than his. They are their own balance.
He would offer her the world if she wanted it because it is his nature to give his all. Katara has no use for the world. She only wants the peace to love him wholly. Zuko gives her that instead.
At night, under the moonlight, they lie together and dream of the new world they want, and when dawn comes, they build it.